Interview with H.E. Mrs. Taous DJELLOULI, Algeria’s ambassador to Romania.
You’ve been in Romania for 2 years. How the bilateral relations are looking like? What improvement have you seen and what new partnership opportunities, in what fields? Algeria was in 2014 Romania’s second partner in Africa, after Morocco. In the first 11 months of 2015, the exports mounted to USD 432.4 million while the imports USD 0.9 M, according to MAE. Commercial exchanges are favoring Romania. What could vivify these ties?
Algeria is indeed Romania’s second partner in Africa, was also the first among the Maghrebian countries. You also remarked an imbalance in Romania’s favour. Romania is however Algeria’s first partner in the Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, an important turnover is due to the Renault cars imported by Algeria from Romania. I say unfortunately because there are also other countries that make Renault cars and we could decide to import them for other countries, for instance for proximity reasons. For all these reasons we need to diversify our exchanges, from both sides.
Unfortunately, the companies from both countries don’t know one another and must be more aggressive. You also remarked the low figures of the Algerian imports which are due to the structure of our domestic economy. 90 % of the Algerian exports are based on hydrocarbons. But Romania has enough resources on that and if it needs natural resources it will import them from closer countries. Algeria is trying to diversify its exports at the moment and we hope we can find new opportunities and partnerships on this occasion.
What would be the most famous Romanian brand in Algeria?
Without any doubt, Dacia (laughing) is the most known Romanian brand in Algeria, and Dacia Duster. Dacia could be the foundation for new partnerships on outsourcing, for Romania has a significant experience in this field and we are at the beginning and you could help us make engine parts.
I hope the relations between the Romanian and Algerian companies should be more active. We have scheduled several meetings this autumn through the Chambers of commerce and we have a businessmen council which is not very active but we hope the relationship to get more active. I believe the activation is possible also through the political ties. Two political visits were scheduled, the Algerian PM was supposed to pay a visit in Romania in November 2015, but the visit was cancelled due to domestic agenda in Algeria and former PM Ponta was also supposed to visit Algeria in early this year, but again his visit was cancelled due to the Government shift in Romania.
Several ambassadors often complained that the embassies’ activity could be hindered by these political shifts…
It’s true, I just gave the examples of the two cancelled visits at PM level. This could affect also the sectorial relationship, for when there is a PM visit, the delegation also comprises ministers. The governments with one-year term affect building a long-term relationship, although they have a positive mandate to adjust the domestic affairs. We had also domestic problems, like you, with all the years fighting against terrorism and others, and you have been focused on developing relations with Europe, but now we should rebuild this relationship, which was excellent in the past.
You have a consistent activity at the embassy, visits to other cities, meeting with the members of the local chambers of commerce, cultural events. What economic or cultural events were held and what others are incoming?
What I’ve seen through the visas we are issuing, there are many Romanians going to work in Algeria, but they go hired by foreign companies based in Algeria. They mostly go to work in IT, outsourcing and constructions. Romanians are very good in IT. There is a private partnership, a small Romanian-Algerian company mediating the exits. I also know that there are two Romanian private companies building houses in Algeria, for Algeria is a true building yard right now.
As for the cultural dimension, we try to attend as many cultural events as possible, such the Embassies’ Festival. We kicked off the Africa Day in Bucharest last year, but we tried to relocate a little bit and also meet our students in other Romanian cities. In 2015 we held the Africa Day in Timisoara and in Cluj-Napoca this year. In 2016 the topic of the Cluj conference was precisely the role of the African woman in the development.
We also attended Bookfest in early June this year, we had a stall of the African countries and I was pleasantly surprised of the people’s interest. Unfortunately, the publishers are not interested all the time in translating our books. From what I know, the only Algerian books translated in Romania were the ones written by Algerian authors who had been awarded in France.
I hope this autumn we can hold an Algerian movie screening, a film made by a female film director about women. We also plan to present an exhibition of Algerian handicraft items.
You are one of the lady ambassadors accredited to Romania. How do you see the feminine diplomacy compared to 20, 30 years ago? Are women more represented now in politics, diplomacy or other fields in the Arab world and in general?
I will talk from Algeria’s perspective. When I joined the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the women were not sent to missions. When he was foreign affairs minister, President Bouteflika was the first one to send women in diplomatic missions and when he became president he also appointed the first women ambassadors. When I started the diplomatic career, there were just ten women in the Foreign Ministry, now there are much more.
Romania is a suitable destination for naming women ambassadors. All three Maghreb countries have women as ambassadors in Romania and I also remarked that more and more Romanian ladies are sent as ambassadors abroad.
I think that women are different from men in the way that they pay more attention to everything. For instance, the cultural dimension is seldom neglected by men, but for women it’s an important element, they want to make their countries visible also through the cultural aspects, through the handicraft or cuisine. It’s obvious that political and economic relations are essential in our activity, but it is also important to send messages through the cultural side. Culture is seldom perceived as a minor dimension, but, on the contrary, it is very important.
How do you see the condition of woman nowadays? Undoubtedly, the woman made huge steps by overcoming many barriers related to gender inequality, accessing jobs, technology help women more in their households. Bur which are the challenges that woman still has to face in 2016?
For us, the Algerian women, there have been many challenges. The Algerian woman took part in the Liberation war, but once the independence achieved, she retuned home without asking much. Illiteracy was a great challenge, especially among women. The greatest achievement for the Algerian woman was education. Education was free and mandatory up to the age of 16 both for boys and girls. And now we came up to have more women in universities than men, which pleases me. They are more of them in education, in medicine, while 42% of the magistrates are women.
But this doesn’t mean that everything is painted in bright colors, for the society is the way it is and the traditional values are still strong and visible and the woman has not been politically visible for a long time. However, we had the Family code inspired by sharia and it was amended while particularly balancing the relations between men and women on children education. Another victory was the nationality code, which is now giving the right to the women to give their nationalities to their children. And the last victory was that the law punishing the violence against women has been recently adopted.
In terms of politics, there are more and more women in the political parties, which are compelled to have 30% women on their electoral lists. I think in our region there are the most women in the National assembly, but we must not hide the reality, only 9% of the women have responsibility positions. We try to compel parties to name more women in these positions at administrative level.
Talking about traditions, about the Arab veil, I prefer a veiled woman going to university and working than a woman without veil but staying home. And we cannot hide the fact that women are seldom working for economic reasons.
Wouldn’t be an advantage to include the women on the labour market to help society socially and economically?
Of course it would be an advantage. I think we still have to fight the demographic battle. A working woman, an educated woman will give birth to less children. Besides, a working woman can also make a contribution in the family and nationwide. This dynamics is needed in the society, as it creates more jobs, stimulate the consumption, etc.
What percentage of Algerian women are on the labour market?
If you compared the situation in Algeria with the one in Romania on the woman’s topic, what from Romania would implement in your country and what we have similar? What would be a generic advice give to the contemporary women in order for them to pursue their dreams?
There are a lot of resemblances, especially in the family, the role of the woman in the household is similar in both countries. In Romania, the woman spends as much time in the kitchen as the Oriental woman. Education and work would be my advice.
But it depends only on her?
First of all, it’s still the woman’s fault in her relationship with the man, for women are the ones raising the boys.
Do you consider that there are chances for this mentality to change in the upcoming future?
It will be difficult for there are still retrograde voices inside society and we have to be very careful for no one will do it in our places. The only thing that make me hope is that for economic reasons many men accept that their wives are working, they have no other choice, but I don’t think it’s a victory, for, as I said, there are still retrograde voices which militate for women to stay home.
What do you like in Romania, generally speaking and what do you dislike?
I like people, they are always hospitable with foreigners, I like ‘cozonac’ (laughing), I like the Romanian embroideries. I have a great time in Romania, I like the nature a lot, it is very beautiful here. In terms of cons, I would mention the slowness. For an ambassador, it’s very difficult to cope with the shifts.
What memorable places in Romania were noteworthy to you? What do you do in your spare time?
I like walking through Bucharest a lot. I like Brasov, where I have the impression of being in a film with Sisi the Empress. I also like Cluj and Sibiu a lot, I would like to visit the monasteries in northern Moldavia, this is my next plan. I had the chance of visiting the Danube Delta, it was a very pleasant visit. I hope in August to be able to visit new places.
What is the situation in Algeria now, what would be the country’s strengths?
Like all the oil countries, Algeria is affected by the decrease of crude oil price, but still we have been cautious and we have the chance to change the structure of the national economy. I am happy that the private system is gaining more and more ground in the domestic economy, not enough, but it’s an important step. There are many opportunities for the Romanian businessmen, for tourism.
It’s big country, 2 381 741 km2, with a huge natural and cultural diversity. One day you can be at the seaside and in the mountains and I am not talking about the desert, which is however unique, the Algerian Sahara is fairy-like. We have also strong spa tourism. Although tourism has not been a priority so far, once with the diversification of the economy tourism will be considered, just like in our neighboring countries, which are mainly touristic countries.
Is Algeria a safe travel destination?
Yes, it is. Germany itself declared Algeria as a safe country. Of course, there are areas with travel alerts for tourists, but the cities are safe.
What would you say to a Romanian tourist to encourage him to visit Algeria? What would you recommend? What are the strengths of the Algerian tourism, culture?
The most available advice would be to visit the beaches, we have an 1,200 km of coastline. If you want to enjoy the sun, you must go on the Mediterranean seaside, with all the resorts. But I would also recommend less known destinations, more hidden but extremely beautiful, such as the Chiffa Gorge or Canyon de Ghoufi.
Anyway, there are many travel recommendations also from the cultural diversity perspective. There are landscape, fashion or urban architecture differences from one region to another. For instance, Ghardaia at the Sahara’s gates, everything is different on cultural linguistic or architectural level. You will find in Algeria a more selective tourism, a cultural tourism.
Do you consider that terrorism has rather religious or economic grounds?
Both, for it’s easier to recruit an unemployed, less educated young man.
I’ll tell you a story. When people from the terrorist organizations surrendered to the Algerian army and talking on TV, they have been asked why they had surrendered? None mentioned religion, all of them said ‘Our bosses used to eat meat, while we ate just bread, our bosses used to wear modern boots, we were barefoot‘. And that was the question where is the religious ideal? They would have expected to be given money out there, and all kind of advantages. Religion is important in our society, but it has been hijacked. For instance many non-Algerian patterns have been imported in Algeria, they have been trying to create all kind of splits. We have been Muslim since the 7th century, we are malachite Sunnis.
Algeria has been a French colony, where the population was impoverished, the citizens were not allowed to speak their language, their lands have been seized and by practicing this type of Islam related to terrorism some people had the impression of recovering something from their identity and they ended up by being subject to manipulations.
Do you think this type of manipulation will be still possible in the future, the youngsters seem to be more keen to information, technology…
You remarked that Algeria was out of the Arab Spring, there are very few Algerians who are joining the terrorist organizations in Iraq or Syria. I don’t say that everything is perfect, but I believe that Algerians are not interested in this kind of adventures anymore.